Owner Simon Hunt can reflect on an “amazing season” with The Giant Bolster as his popular chaser starts his well-earned summer break at David Bridgwater’s stable.
With supporters as far as field as Japan, The Giant Bolster – rated the best staying chaser in England by Hunt – ended the season in great style by winning on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham for the third year in a row and finishing a close third in the Gold Cup.
Hunt and Bridgwater have resisted the temptation to run him at Aintree next week or Punchestown at the end of April and the nine-year-old – placed in the past three Gold Cups – is now taking life easy at Wyck Hill Farm.
“He’s having a break, he’s got his shoes off and he’s in the field just chilling out,” said Hunt.
“I love Cheltenham and I think he loves it more than me!”
“Aintree was a non-starter for us because clearly he doesn’t like it, so there was no point going there.
“Punchestown would have been great for the prestige of the trainer and owner, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing for the horse.
“The Gold Cup is tough and that was a battling Gold Cup and we have to do the right thing by the horse.
“That’s the important thing, and we’re not greedy.”
The Giant Bolster and jockey Tom Scudamore played a massive part in a rousing finish to the Gold Cup, with only Lord Windermere and On His Own ahead of them.
His performance underlined why Hunt and his legions of supporters have taken him to their hearts.
Hunt, who gave a share in The Giant Bolster to close friend Gary Lambton as a 50th birthday present, said: “I think the best staying chaser in England sits in the Cotswolds in Bridgie’s yard.
“Two fences out in the Gold Cup we were virtually stopped on our feet but the ground he made up was phenomenal.
“I will always have that great sense of pride in the achievement. However, I will also always have that pain of coming so close to the impossible dream.
“But we were thrilled with him and I wouldn’t want that to sound the wrong way.
“He got a fantastic reception from the crowd at Cheltenham and I can only say thank-you to everyone.”
Hunt paid tribute to how well Bridgwater and his team at their Stow-on-the-Wold base had brought The Giant Bolster back to top form this season after defeats at Haydock and Aintree.
Though beaten again over hurdles on a rain-swept day at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, Hunt believes that performance provided the springboard to his momentous victory in the Argento Chase on Festival Trials Day.
“After he ran there, he went up to Angie Thompson’s showjumping place at Chipping Campden and Jake Hodson (Bridgwater’s conditional jockey) was riding him all the time in the indoor school and the horse enjoyed himself,” said Hunt.
“Angie did some fantastic work and he was magnificent in the Argento and absolutely bolted up the hill.
“Bridgie kept his work going between then and the Gold Cup and he went up to Angie’s again because she became part of the training regime.
“You’d have to take your hat off to Poppy Bridgwater, Bridgie’s daughter, because if it hadn’t been for her going there for her lessons it might never been suggested.
“She was part of the idea there and she deserves a big pat on the back – she’s firmly implanted in Team Bolster.
“Bridgie has done a brilliant job with the horse.
“Forget Gold Cups, the horse has gone to three Festival Trials Days at Cheltenham and won every time, completing the full package of chases.
“You couldn’t ask for any more than that and all in all, when we look back on it, we’ve had an amazing season.
“In his three Gold Cups, he’s taken on three different sets of horses, on three different types of ground and finished second, fourth and third. I think that is significant.
“For a trainer to present a horse at five Festivals and in three Gold Cups is fantastic.
“The trainer hasn’t had the credit he deserves and the horse hasn’t had the credit he deserves, though I think people are now starting to wake up.”